LATE DUKU STRIKE SEALS CUP WIN
Raith Rovers opened their Scottish League Cup campaign with a 2-1 win over neighbours East Fife, sealed with a late Manny Duku header after a keenly contested ninety minutes. Rovers came from behind to take all three points with Duku’s winner following a first-half in which Regan Hendry’s penalty had cancelled out Liam Newton’s early opener for the visitors.
Rovers had the better of an entertaining second half, after an even opening period in which East Fife perhaps had the slight advantage – Danny Denholm and Ryan Wallace looked lively upfront, while Raith struggled at times to generate the flow that had marked their attacking play in last season’s promotion campaign. The second half saw a much-improved performance from John McGlynn’s men, with Hendry and full-backs Tumilty and MacDonald all prominent, causing regular trouble for the East Fife rearguard.
With manager John McGlynn watching on at a distance following hospital treatment, Paul Smith led Raith in to their first competitive fixture of the season with four summer signings in starting roles – striker Manny Duku earned a start following several impressive performances in pre-season, young midfielder Ethan Ross began on the left of midfield, and Regan Tumilty opened at right-back. Experienced former Kilmarnock keeper Jamie MacDonald took position between the sticks. Kyle Benedictus wore the captain’s arm-band a Raith began their 2020/21 campaign.
East Fife arrived in Kirkcaldy fresh from a mid-week home victory over Cowdenbeath – strikers Ryan Wallace and new loan signing Jack Hamilton each finding the net. Danny Denholm’s introduction as a second-half substitute was the catalyst for that victory, earning him a starting berth as a result – Hamilton dropping to the bench. Young made four other changes – goalkeeper Jordan Hart replacing Brett Long, and Craig Watson, Liam Newton, and Liam Watt in for Murdoch, Swanson, and Arran Dunsmore.
Raith, starting with a flat back four, had the first chance – Armstrong blasting over after Duku’s fine run took him flying past Dunlop. Agnew fired over MacDonald’s bar moments later, as each side began at a good tempo. Denholm and Wallace linked well with the clock showing seven minutes – Tumilty appealing for support tracking-back from his midfield. East Fife, resplendent in their tartan-stripe yellow and black jerseys, were edging the opening exchanges.
In defensive mode, Raith showed a back four, but in possession Rovers followed last season’s successful back-three with Hendry dropping deep between Benedictus and Davidson, and MacDonald and Tumilty pushing forwards into advanced positions on either flank. Ethan Ross and Dan Armstrong flew back to cover their full-backs in a defensive transition – for the visitors, the wily Agnew looked to exploit the wide areas with every through ball.
On seventeen minutes, and after both sides had enjoyed good spells of midfield possession without creating clear-cut chances, the visitors took the lead. Higgins’ high cross evaded Tumilty at the far post, allowing Watt to flick back into the danger area. After a deflection, it was youngster Liam Newton on hand to finish from close range with Jamie MacDonald beaten. Moments later, with the home side rattled, Wallace escaped Davidson on the left-flank and fired a fizzing drive across MacDonald’s goal. Ross Matthews saw yellow for a scything challenge on Denholm.
Ethan Ross was the most visible of Raith’s new signings in the opening stages – with a vibrant running style and quick feet, Ross constantly asked questions of the East Fife defence, showing excellent close control and dribbling skills. Taking a high ball from Hendry over his shoulder at speed, the youngster created a presentable chance for Armstrong on twenty-five minutes – the latter should have forced a save from Hart in the East Fife goal.
The match’s competitive edge didn’t suffer from the lack of a crowd – Davidson clattered Denholm; Tait earned Rovers’ second yellow for a rash challenge on the half hour; Agnew and Watt snapped and snarled in the midfield. Armstrong earned another yellow for tugging at Newton. Despite the lack of noise from the stands, each side was fully engaged. A pre-season friendly this was not.
Only once in the first-half did a deep Raith pass to the flanks get in behind the visiting defence, Darren Young’s troops clearly briefed to watch for the ball over the top. On thirty-eight minutes, Benedictus found Tumilty at full pelt, with left-back Slattery momentarily caught on his heels. The Raith full-back hit the by-line and crossed, Higgins preventing an equaliser with a clearance in front of Duku.
With Raith having improved steadily as the half progressed, a golden opportunity for an equaliser came within a minute of the interval – Duku was wrestled to the ground by Watson following MacDonald’s penetrating free-kick. While the contact looked minimal, the defender had his arms wrapped around the Raith man, giving referee David Lowe a decision to take. Hendry finished with aplomb, leaving Hart with no chance. The sides departed to their respective dressing rooms on level terms.
Both sides flew at each other from the restart. Rovers had won and wasted a corner within thirty seconds of the kick-off; Duku and Ross each had chances; Denholm was booked for a late trip. The noise from the players – with yells and shouts from all sides – spoke to each sides’ desire to establish their authority over the other. Wallace’s blast was blocked by Benedictus with the first real chance. On fifty-five minutes, Tait’s header from Ross’s cross was nodded over by Duku – the linesman’s flag meaning an accurate finish wouldn’t have affected the scoreboard.
Regan Hendry became a more central figure as the match moved past the hour mark. Combining well with MacDonald after a slack throw-in from the visitors, Hendry stepped beautifully inside Dunlop and looked to cross before being bundled over in unseemly fashion by the retreating full-back. Tait blasted over from the resultant free-kick. Tumilty crossed high for Duku – the rangy striker unable to direct his header on target from a difficult angle.
Raith’s full-backs will again be key to both the defensive and attacking sides of Rovers’ play this season. On the left, although having a quiet game by his own high standards, MacDonald looked accomplished and showed his familiar range of passing; on the other side, Tumilty looked aggressive in attack and strong in the challenge – his combination play with Armstrong was a highlight of Raith’s second half showing.
On sixty-eight minutes, a penalty shout for Raith – Hendry blasted a drive goalwards following Ross’s corner, and a deflection saw the ball hit a prostrate Higgins in the midriff – referee Lowe denied Raith’s appeals. With the next attack, Tumilty combined well with Armstrong in a narrow channel down the right-flank, the full-back’s cross narrowly evaded Duku at the far-post with Dunlop a step off the pace. At the other end, Tumilty sneaked in front of Higgins to deflect Denholm’s cross away for a corner.
With the late afternoon sunshine streaming across the pitch, Ethan Ross fired a snapshot just wide on seventy-seven minutes after another Tumilty break down the right. A gilt-edged chance followed – goalkeeper Hart collided with Dunlop under Armstrong’s cross, and Tumilty’s goal-bound effort was hacked away by Dunsmore. Momentum looked to be with the home side as legs tired on both sides. Slattery’s rasping drive flew straight into MacDonald’s grateful arms.
The visitors came back at Raith, looking for a winner – the introduction of Dunsmore had given East Fife more flow through midfield, and substitute Collins looked full of running. But with four minutes to go, it was the home side who won it – Tumilty’s high cross was squared back across goal by MacDonald and Manny Duku was on hand to nod home – the young striker delighted with his winner, a just reward for Raith’s second-half endeavours.
With the heavens opening in the closing minutes, Raith’s passing took the pressure from their defence as spaces opened up through midfield – Hendry in particular showing excellent close control and vision to direct the play away from Raith’s rear-guard. With referee Lowe’s final whistle following two minutes of injury time, Duku’s late winner had been enough to see Raith past their rivals. The games come thick and fast from now, with Raith heading to Tynecastle on Tuesday night imbued with confidence after this enterprising and hard-fought win.
Photo © Tony Fimister
The Betfred Cup tie will kick off at 3pm on Saturday 10th October. Unfortunately – due to COVID-19 restrictions – supporters will be unable to watch the game from the stands. However, anyone can watch the match online – RaithTV will be broadcasting a live video stream to viewers in the UK and around the globe.
The stream will cost £9.99
Raith Rovers season tickets do not provide access to any cup matches, but will have access to all home league matches from next week v Arbroath.
To purchase the stream for this weekend:
Log in using your existing RaithTV account. If you do not already have an account, there is an option to create one on the website.
Select the East Fife game and enter your payment details.
Raith Rovers will get their first taste of competitive football in seven months this weekend, when they host East Fife in the group stages of the League Cup at Stark’s Park.
The League One side have already played once in the competition, defeating Cowdenbeath 2-0 on Tuesday evening, thanks to goals from Jack Hamilton and Ryan Wallace, and Fife manager Darren Young has kept the bulk of the players which saw them finish fifth in the third tier last term, while his three additions have all been in forward areas.
Attacking midfielder, Danny Swanson was a big name acquisition in the summer, with the 33-year-old bringing a wealth of top flight experience from spells at Dundee United, Hearts, Hibs and St Johnstone.
Up top, two new faces have arrived in Methil, with Jack Hamilton joining from Livingston on loan, while Thomas Collins, who scored against East Fife in their surprise 4-3 defeat to BSC Glasgow in the Scottish Cup last season, has been brought in from the Lowland League club.
Saturday’s match will need to go some if it’s to top the last meeting between the clubs for drama, with Rovers winning 5-3 in Methil in December.
Jamie Gullan and Kieran MaDonald had the away side two up within 20 minutes, only for Scott Agnew to half the arrears before the half-hour mark. However, MacDonald restored the two goal cushion before half time, while Dylan Tait appeared to make the points safe with a fourth after the interval. Incredibly, match then started to swing back towards East Fife, with Anton Dowds and then Ryan Wallace making it 4-3 with still 20 minutes remaining, but as the match entered the 95th minute, Gullan sealed the three points, and a memorable celebration with the game clinching fifth.
Raith also came out on top in a high scoring game the last time the two sides met in the League Cup, with a 4-1 First Round win back in 2010. A double from Gregory Tade and a strike from John Baird had Raith in complete control with less than half an hour gone, and while Bobby Linn got the visitors back into the game with a well taken free-kick, Jamie Mole completed the scoring with a little over 15 minutes remaining.
Despite Raith only winning two of the last seven meetings between the clubs, they do still have the upper hand in recent seasons, with five wins and two draws from the last 10 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be David Lowe
Head-To-Head Cup Record Versus East Fife:
Raith Rovers Wins: 10 | East Fife Wins: 10 | Draws: 5
Raith Rovers Goals: 46 | East Fife Goals: 50